RPM Challenge 2013: Start Your Songwriting and Recording Engines

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Besides being Black History Month, did you also know February as its much lesser known monthly monicker Heartworm Awareness Month? National Pet Dental Health Awareness Month? Termite Awareness Month? Sinus Pain Awareness Month? That last one was moved up from March, presumably because we needed those three less days to be aware of sinus pain.

And it's also RPM Challenge Month, where recording artisans from all over the world pledge to a website started by a bunch of folk in Portsmouth, NH, that they will record an album (defined as "10 songs or 35 minutes of original music") from start to finish in the shortest month of the year and mail it in to RPM headquarters by March 1. Finishers win absolutely nothing for their efforts except bragging rights and they may lose some friends and relations along the way who cannot deal with this concentration of inspiration for an entire month. We have ten Arizona signups as of now with more sure to follow and on Thursday, March 21, at the FilmBar, these artists will unveil their works as part of that evening's Nerd Nite festivities.

Who will finish? Who will fold? Who can say?

Mike Red (Michaelred56) 

The trombonist for Sunorous has tentatively titled his album The Never Endeavor. Says Red, "I will be tracking improvisational electronic ideas on the iPad this week, using a DAW app, with most tones created using audiobus, ikaossilator, loopy HD, impc, samplr and magellan... plus whatever I think of on the fly."

Got that? Already the Challenge may be getting to him. On his blog on Saturday, February 2, 2013, he posted this message: "I am starting to realize 'normal life' might be working against me on this challenge. I'm also realizing that 35 minutes of an 808 kick drum at 115 bpm might be my submission. Maybe I'll have time to separate it into 10 tracks."


Last year's Challenge was the impetus for David Marquez (Sweetbleeders, Colorstore) and Zach Vogt to start a side project, and Episodes turned out a great album of moody dance soundscapes named after a popular misspelling of Millennia, namely Millnnia

This year, under pseudonyms like Hideo 8, Yojimbo Billions, and Walker Boson, Episode are promising another foray into Astrofunk. 

Sha-Pink/QIBIC "For more than twenty years, Sha-Pink has been an on-again-off-again fixture in the Phoenix, Arizona music and art scene," reads their bio, but bandmates Darrin Robertson and Jimmy Saccoman have been consistently "on" as far as RPM Challenge is concerned. This is their fifth consecutive year, hallmarked by last year's entry, presumptuously named Thriller and containing songs with titles already made famous elsewhere like "Get Jiggy Wit It," "I Just Called to Say I Love You," and "Rolling in the Deep."

This year Sha-Pink go into their challenge with no overarching themes. "I get so frustrated working with Darrin that I'm just happy to get 10 songs of any form," grouses Saccoman, who usually does a solo project as well under the name QUBIQ (pronounced Cubic).   

Mike Montoya

Although Fatigo has been a local fixture for over a decade, Montoya recently relocated.

"I live in Bisbee now so I might use some local help...Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl live here so they might make some cameos," says Montoya of his first RPM Challenge, using the name ERSKY. What can we expect it to sound like?

"Well I'm trying to keep an open mind, but definitely some nods to Orbison and also some '90s influence." On day one, Montoya posted a picture of the first song he's written for the Challenge, entitled "Trailboss."

The Bohemian Club

Last year a faulty computer crash prevented Andrew Jemsek from completing his RPM Challenge but this year, with the help of brother Tristan and James Hanna, his new project, The Bohemian Club, seems determined to cross the finish line with an album.

"We play high energy '60s inspired rock and roll and frequently travel out to a remote part of northern California, a couple of hours outside of San Francisco in the Redwoods," Jemsek says.

"There, we engage in a number of satanic rituals involving burning corpses, resurrecting demons, and playing some sick fuzzy guitar riffs with snotty vocals. In this RPM Challenge we will only be recording songs that appear to us in visions during these rituals in the grove."

Tristan Jemsek

In addition to working on his brother's RPM Challenge project and playing with a certain Serene Dominic and the GemSeekers, the man behind Dogbreth is doing his own project. 

"I'm probably going to use my friend Jason's 4-track cassette recorder. It's gonna be a simple folky album." Famous last words, for many RPM Challengers faced with the starkness of their compositions with only a scintilla of production get hung up on that integrity kick and chuck their efforts if it rings false.

To paraphrase David Lee Roth, "I found the simple folky album wasn't so simple."  

Donut Shop Death 

This intriguing project by Tucsonan Mariella Morton involves producing an album based upon the 1964-1965 World's Fair, drawing inspiration from found slides and films.

Morton came into a bunch of slides of an elderly couple's visit to the Flushing Fair and will unveil the slides at the Listening Party/Nerd Nite event at FilmBar on March 21.

"I'm also trying to write and record on period instruments and equipment as much as possible," says Morton.


Last year, Eli Tannix's entry The Telemarathon Chronicles, a 28-day spanning continuous album recorded entirely in the month of February, was not recognized as a finisher in the RPM Challenge because he neglected to mail it in. Tannix maintains it was because he delivered in Betamax format.  

This year, Tannix strides into more accessible waters by recording an album of the Zodiac. A song for every sign. If that sounds suspiciously like the infamous curio Sounds of the Zodiac released on Elektra Records in 1967, don't tell that to Tannix.

"Our zodiac will sound nothing like their cosmic debris. In fact I will go on record as saying the Tannix zodiac album will be looked upon by future generations as the penultimate Zodiac album if someone else decides to do it. And that's no Taurus!"

Serene Dominic and The GemSeekers

This is my fourth year as an RPM Challenger but this is the first year I will attempt to do it as a group project. This will be a great test of my control freak nature and the fact that the group members Nick Pasco, Andrew Jemsek, and Tristan Jemsek have more projects going than February has days.

It may turn out to be a mixture of solo and group recordings depending on everyone's availability. And most of the songs will be about music and my checkered relationship to it. Except for  "You Sexy Sexy Sex Fiend (You)."

That song is just plain stupid.

Stand by a for a wrap-up as the month ends.

See also:

-2012 RPM Challenge: Who Completed an Entire Album in February? -2012 RPM Challenge: Five Valley Artists (And Yours Truly) Attempt to Record an Album in One Month

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